The Force of Fatherhood

*Contains major spoilers for the Star Wars saga and The Mandolorian.

At the conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker finally confronts the evil Darth Vader in a lightsaber battle. Vader beckons Luke to embrace the dark side of the Force, joining him in bringing order to the galaxy—but Luke refuses. Vader asks Luke if Obi-Wan Kenobi told him about his father and Luke responds that Vader killed him. Vader then delivers one of the most iconic lines in movie history: “No, I am your father.”

While the Star Wars universe is full of aliens and laser swords, the stories are really about the basic desires of humanity: hope, freedom, and family. More specifically, Star Wars shows us the importance of fatherhood. Many of its stories are driven by the relationship between a father and his children. The most significant example is the one seen above, between Luke and Vader. Vader attempts to lure his son to the dark side so they can rule the galaxy as father and son, while Luke seeks to return his father to the light. Other examples of father and child storylines involve Jango and Boba Fett, Galen and Jyn Erso, Han Solo and Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, and Din Djarin (the Mandalorian) and Grogu (Baby Yoda). In the Disney+ series Disney Gallery lead producer and writer of various Star Wars projects, Dave Filoni, explains how fatherhood is integral to the entire story arc from Episodes I through VI:

In Episode I, Qui-Gon Jinn takes in the fatherless Anakin Skywalker not just as the boy’s teacher, but also as a surrogate father. When Qui-Gon dies, Obi-Wan honors his master’s request to accept the child as his own apprentice. However, Obi-Wan is more of an older brother to Anakin than a father. This allows the evil Emperor Palpatine to fulfill Anakin’s desire for a father and seduce Anakin to the dark side. One must wonder, if Qui-Gon had not been killed by Darth Maul and had trained Anakin instead of Obi-Wan, would this have prevented Anakin from turning to the dark side, thus sparing the galaxy the immense suffering and oppression brought on by the Empire?

Fatherhood is still a major theme in recent Star Wars projects, such as the popular Disney+ series The Mandalorian. Din Djarin, the titular Mandalorian, is a bounty hunter tasked with delivering Grogu to his client. The entire series revolves around Mando trying to balance his reputation as ruthless bounty hunter, his loyalties to his Mandalorian coven, and his self-appointed duty as caretaker of the child. What happens when these three roles come into conflict?

The Facts of Fatherhood
Why do we resonate so much with the connection between Din Djarin and Grogu? Why is it so shocking to learn that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father and why is it so satisfying when Luke brings his father back to the light? It’s because good stories tap into our deepest desires and the deepest truths about reality. Star Wars does this when it illustrates the importance of fatherhood.

As proof, let’s look at some statistics about how children suffer when their fathers are absent. Fatherless children are four times more likely to live in poverty and are more likely to have behavioral problems, commit crimes, and be imprisoned. They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and are twice as likely to be obese and drop out of school. Around the time of the writing of this article, America suffered another horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Most school shooters come from broken families, having either strained relationships with (or outright lacking) their father. The same was true of the Uvalde shooter.

However, the opposite effect also occurs when a man is involved in his children’s lives. Such children will be better behaved, have greater confidence, and perform better in school. They will be less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol or become incarcerated. Fatherhood also benefits fathers, as it gives men greater motivation to live a healthy lifestyle and avoid risky behaviors. Fatherhood develops character in men, teaching them patience, responsibility, and selflessness. It gives men meaning and purpose, increasing their self-esteem and self-worth. The benefits of fatherhood run both ways, to men as well as to their children.

The Choices of Fatherhood
The Star Wars saga also shows us how fatherhood presents men with difficult decisions. In The Force Awakens, Han Solo knows he must confront his son and attempt to bring him back to the light, even though it ultimately costs Han his life. Vader could have allowed the Emperor to kill Luke so that Vader could continue ruling the galaxy beside his master. But Vader chooses to sacrifice his own life to save his son’s. Din Djarin has a stellar reputation as a bounty hunter and good standing with his Mandalorian community; yet everything changes when he encounters the helpless little Grogu. He could deliver the child to his client, receive payment, and move on to the next task like a good bounty hunter, but he doesn’t. Mando abandons the bounty hunter code and risks excommunication from his community to rescue Grogu and take the child as his adopted son.

What are the types of difficult fatherhood choices that men face in the real world? A man can choose to work longer hours to purposely avoid the responsibilities of fatherhood or he can pass up valuable overtime to spend time with his family. When faced with an unwanted pregnancy, a man can leave his partner, pressure her into getting an abortion, or step up and accept fatherhood. A man can also choose to take in a child who is not his biologically, either through adoption or mentorship. The choices of fatherhood can also be more mundane, like a man deciding to turn off the television or put down his phone to go play with his children. Some choices are life-altering and some are simple, but the decision to be a father always involves sacrifice and responsibility.

Conclusion
It is easy to see fathers as just the other parent or even as unnecessary. But fathers have a critical role in the development of their children and provide a tremendous influence in their lives. Imagine how many of society’s ills would be improved if neglected children had the benefit of a father or father figure. Or, on the other hand, how many people’s lives would have been worse without a loving father. The importance of fatherhood can never be overstated. While the characters of the Star Wars universe believe the Force is the greatest power in the universe, we know there is something much stronger: fatherhood.

Sign up here to receive weekly Reflect emails in your inbox!

Timothy Fox

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. Tim lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and children. He also blogs at freethinkingministries.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @TimothyDFox.